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Rothmayer Villa: Modern architecture at its finest

NOTE: Visitors are only allowed to take photos of the villa from the street.

Tourists interested in classicist modern architecture will want to add the Rothmayer Villa to their Prague itineraries. The villa, designed by architect Otto Rothmayer for his family during 1928 and 1929, is a relatively new sight in the Czech Republic’s capital. It has only been open to the public since the fall of 2015.

The villa, situated at U Páté baterie 50 in the Břevnov section of Prague 6, is noted for its lack of decoration on its exterior. Yet the simplicity of the unadorned façade has its own charm. The villa has a rectangular plan accompanied by a cylindrical shape of an elegant, spiral staircase that connects the floors.

The tour allows visitors to become acquainted with the intriguing lives of the Rothmayers – Otto, his wife Božena and his son Jan – and their artistic accomplishments. From 1921 Otto made a name for himself as the assistant architect of Prague Castle, working under the guidance of his mentor, Slovene Jože Plečník, who left in 1930. Otto did not give up his post until his retirement in 1958. Perhaps his best-known design at Prague Castle is the Staircase Hall, for which he used faux marble, a material that was new and innovative at the time.

Otto’s architectural output was by no means limited to his work at Prague Castle. He designed three family houses, exhibitions for the Museum of Applied Arts and installations for shows at the Museum of Decorative Arts, among other projects.

Božena concentrated on textile design as well as making jewelry and purses. She also had a keen taste for fashion, designing pants for women, for instance. Božena put together an exhibition featuring the modern woman, too. She was, indeed, a modern woman: she wore her hair short and often dressed in pants. During the tour, visitors see her exquisite embroideries.

Jan Rothmayer, their son, was an electrotechnician with a passion for photography. His photos, seen in a video, reveal a style similar to that of Czech neo-romantic photographer Josef Sudek, who often visited the Rothmayers and took pictures of the villa and the idyllic garden, which is adorned with glassware, rocks and Otto’s white furniture made from rough steel.

In Otto’s room there is a desk that can move back and forth easily in order to take advantage of the best light. The drawers in the desk move from side to side. His furniture is simple and practical. In the guest room Plečník created an armchair and table. Both Plečník and Otto liked to work with wood. Spruce, pine and ash wood, among other types, are used to make the furnishings. White tiled stoves dot the interior. Jan Vaněk, an architect for a company in Brno, was responsible for some of the furniture design, too. He designed four Windsor chairs in one room, for instance.

Rothmayer purposely built his villa on a site surrounded by fields because being immersed in nature was an important factor in his design. Those days are long gone, however. Now the street is flanked by other villas and has a hospital as its neighbor.

The villa was never nationalized, and the family had called it home until 2009, so many of the furnishings are original. Reconstruction of the villa began in 2009 and finished in 2015. Now the villa resembles its appearance during the late 1950s and early 1960s.

Reservations must be made in advance. Tours are available in Czech and in English. Also consider visiting the nearby Müller Villa, designed by architect Adolf Loos. It also has a sober exterior but is lavishly decorated inside.


CITY


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A resident of Prague since 1991, Tracy A. Burns has published articles and stories in English, Czech and Slovak. Her work in English has appeared in The Washington Post, for instance. Her travel blog is at taburns25.wordpress.com. She also writes book reviews and essays for the Czech and Slovak academic journal Kosmas. Her writings in Czech have been published in Reflex and Listy, among others. Her articles in Slovak have been printed in SME, for example. She has edited an art catalogue for Prague's National Gallery and is a contributing author to the book The Arena Adventure, about Arena Stage theatre. Her passions are writing, reading and traveling.



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